A skewed Republican poll and other news from the IA-03 race

Coming off its worst week yet, Brad Zaun’s campaign is hyping a new poll showing him leading seven-term Representative Leonard Boswell by 51 percent to 41 percent in Iowa’s third district. The poll was commissioned by former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman’s American Action Forum, and taken by Republican pollster Ayres, McHenry & Associates. The poll was in the field from August 16 through 18, before a cascade of bad news for Zaun hit central Iowa newspapers, radio and television stations, and that’s not even the biggest problem with poll.

More details on the new Republican poll, as well as a preview of a Boswell campaign argument against Zaun, are after the jump.

To its credit, the American Action Fund released full results from its Iowa survey, including the question wordings and order (pdf file). An anonymous commenter at Hotline on Call flagged the biggest problem with the poll’s design:

Those American Action Forum polls are designed to prime respondents into selecting Republican candidates. Instead of starting off with the ballot-test question, they start by asking if people think the country is on the right or wrong track, do they support/oppose health care reform, and their fav/unfav opinion of Obama & Pelosi (not Boehner and Bush, of course). Look, the Democrats are going to lose a lot of seats, and they will lose some of these seats in this poll, but the most credible way to conduct a general election poll is to start by asking who the respondent is voting for, because that is the one question that will actually be on a ballot.

James L. of Swing State Project adds, “That’s absolutely right. For any poll to maintain its credibility, the toplines need to be asked at the start (or at least, no later than right after the favorables, as PPP does it).”

After right direction/wrong track and an open-ended question about the most important issue facing the United States, this poll asked, “Which of the following issues is most likely to affect your vote for Congress this fall?” and read the following list, mostly skewed toward Republican frames on the issues:


PROTECTING OUR COUNTRY …………………………………. 5%


CREATING NEW JOBS……………………………………………. 25%



IMPROVING HEALTH CARE ………………………………….. 10%


So after priming respondents to think about controlling government spending, making Washington accountable and so on, the pollster asks the generic ballot question about whether you’d like your representative in Congress to be a Democrat or a Republican (43 percent Republican, 30 percent Democrat, 19 percent “depends on the candidates,” 9 percent don’t know). Then there’s a question about supporting the health care reform bill, then the survey collects favorable and unfavorable numbers for Boswell, Zaun, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Roxanne Conlin and Chuck Grassley. Finally, they get around to asking people whether they would vote for Boswell or Zaun (51 percent support or lean toward Zaun, 41 percent support or lean toward Boswell), and whether Boswell deserves to be re-elected (31 percent re-elect, 62 percent time for someone else). The re-elect numbers are not good, obviously. That said, I’ve thought for years that it was time for Boswell to retire, which doesn’t mean I would ever vote for a Republican for Congress.

The American Action Forum poll then conveniently does some message-testing for Zaun’s campaign. They ask, “What is the single biggest reason you might not vote for Leonard Boswell that you do not hear discussed often by the media? (PROBE FOR SPECIFICS)” A bit later, they test a bunch of specific negative statements about Boswell (but none about Zaun) to see whether they make people “much less likely” or “somewhat less likely” to vote for Boswell, or whether they have “no real effect.” Get a load of these question wordings:

22. He voted for bailouts of the banking and auto industries, which could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

23. He broke his pledge to serve only four terms in Congress.

24. He voted for cap-and-trade, which Democratic leaders have called a great big tax, and independent analysts say will cause job losses.

25. He voted for President Obama’s 787 billion dollar stimulus package.

26. He voted for ObamaCare, the Democratic health care reform bill.

26a.He sponsored nearly one hundred fifty million dollars in earmarks as the federal budget deficit rose to record levels, and said “If there is someone that doesn’t want an earmark, give it to me.”

The poll also asked for respondents’ views on the “Tea Party movement,” without defining what that means. (Zaun channeled tea party rhetoric during the primary campaign.) About 51 percent said they do not support the movement, 31 percent support it but are unlikely to attend a rally, 7 percent support it and are likely to attend a rally, while 6 percent support it and claim they have already attended a tea party rally. As usual, poll questions like this one overstate the number of activists in the population. All the tea party gatherings in central Iowa put together haven’t drawn even close to 1 percent of voters in the third Congressional district.

The demographics section of the poll is where things get really interesting.  Ayres, McHenry surveyed 400 respondents, 50 percent male and 50 percent female. According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s statistical report (pdf), 552,260 Iowa women voted in the 2006 election, while 492,198 men voted. In other words, 52.9 percent of Iowans who voted in the last midterm elections were women. You can also view statistical reports by county here. About two-thirds of the votes in IA-03 come from Polk County, and in Polk County, 77,536 women voted in November 2006, compared to 66,953 men. In other words, about 53.7 percent of Polk County voters were women in the last midterm election. There’s no guarantee that turnout in 2010 will look exactly like turnout four years ago, but it’s safe to say the Ayres, McHenry poll undersampled women.

The age breakdown is way off as well:

18 TO 34  6%

35 TO 49  26%

50 TO 64  35%

65 OR OLDER  34%


Sounds like not a lot of voters under 35 answer telephone surveys!

I wouldn’t predict a massive turnout of young voters this November, but I doubt there will be five times as many seniors who vote as there are people between 18 and 34. The statewide statistical report from 2006 indicates that of the Iowans who cast ballots:

51,776 were between 18 and 24 (5.0 percent of total votes)

101,015 were between 25 and 34 (9.7 percent)

275,648 were between 35 and 49 (26.4 percent)

334,672 were between 50 and 64 (32.0 percent)

281,346 were 65 and over (26.9 percent)

In Polk County, the number of voters ages 18-34 was nearly equal to the number of voters 65 and over in November 2006.

In this poll, 31 percent of respondents were Republicans, 25 percent were Democrats and 41 percent were independents. Iowans who cast votes in the 2006 general election were 37 percent Republicans, 37 percent Democrats and 26 percent no-party voters. In Polk County alone, the November 2006 electorate included 63,195 Democrats, 49,106 Republicans and 32,188 no-party voters.

You can argue that 2006 was a Democratic wave year, while Republicans benefit from an “enthusiasm gap” now, but you won’t convince me that no-party voters will vastly outnumber Democrats in the November election. Also keep in mind that in Polk County, where most of the IA-03 votes are, Democrats have a larger voter registration advantage now than they did in 2006.

I was also struck by the ideological breakdown in this poll: 51 percent of respondents described themselves as very or somewhat conservative, 20 percent as very or somewhat liberal and only 27 percent as moderate. We don’t have official voter statistics on that, but a Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register taken earlier this year found that 40 percent of Iowans described their ideology as conservative, 40 percent as moderate and 16 percent as liberal. IA-03 tends to vote fairly closely to the state as a whole, and I doubt we have an unusually low number of moderates in the population here.

Looking at who responded to Ayres, McHenry as well as the question wordings and order, it’s likely Zaun’s lead over Boswell (if it exists) is substantially less than 10 points.

Nevertheless, the Republicans got what they wanted out of this poll. Writing for the Des Moines Register, William Petroski reported the topline numbers and noted the Republican “was leading Boswell even though Zaun had 71 percent name recognition compared to 98 percent for Boswell.” Petroski mentioned that the survey was done by a Republican pollster for a “conservative-oriented policy institute,” but he didn’t explore the problems with the survey beyond this passage near the bottom of the article:

Grand Woodward, Boswell’s campaign spokesman, contended the demographics in the poll don’t match up with the district and aren’t reflective of the current race. He also noted  the poll was taken before a news story broke last week about a 2001 incident in which Zaun allegedly went to the West Des Moines home of a former girlfriend, pounding on the windows and calling her a slut, according to a police report.

Journalists need to do a better job of digging into the specifics on partisan polls. We’ve already seen several Republican-commissioned polls on competitive Iowa races this year, with nothing comparable on the Democratic side. This is the third published poll on the Zaun-Boswell race. The other two were done by Victory Enterprises, a consultant to the Zaun campaign (details here and here).

The Boswell campaign hasn’t released any internal polling, but they are already defining Zaun. During the past week, I’ve heard the Boswell campaign’s radio ad on biofuels several times in the car. Yesterday, the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S., I received this e-mail blast from the campaign:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

Today, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote and the opportunity to have a real voice in our nation’s government. This is not only a historic day for women, but for every American, as women have helped shape the direction of our country significantly these last 90 years. Giving women the right to vote was one of the first steps toward ending gender discrimination in the U.S. Since then, we have passed other laws that have changed the dynamics of gender equality everywhere from our schools and work places to court rooms and capitols.

But as you and I both know, our work is not over.

Ensuring the rights and freedoms for every man AND woman has been a priority of mine as your Congressman. Please contribute $25, $50, or $100 to help us continue our fight for equality.

As the father of three daughters, I am proud of my record on women’s equality issues. I have voted YES for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that finally protects against any pay discrimination based on race, gender or age. I have voted YES to stop health insurance companies from charging women more for health insurance based solely on their gender. I have voted YES to providing better health care benefits to our growing female veteran population. And I have made it a priority to bring federal dollars back to the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, including more than $1.8 million through the Recovery Act, to help domestic violence victims and their children in the state.

Unfortunately, my opponent Brad Zaun has not made women’s equality a top priority during his time in the Iowa Senate.

Zaun voted NO to make wage discrimination based on gender illegal under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. This is despite the fact that female employees in Iowa are paid on average 22 cents less than male employees.[1] Zaun also supported an amendment to the bill that required a woman, who brought a lawsuit against their employer on the basis of wage discrimination, to pay the court costs and reasonable attorney fees of the employer if it was found that the employer had not engaged in any discrimination.

Zaun voted NO on requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage for any vaccination or immunization to protect women against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a leading cause of cervical cancer.[2]  He voted NO against expanding health insurance coverage to more low-income women and children in Iowa.[3] Zaun voted NO to funding family and domestic violence shelters that help so many of Iowa’s women in times of crisis.[4]

Brad Zaun has had the opportunity to stand up for Iowa’s women and he has instead taken every chance to vote NO.

Iowans deserve a Congressman who will vote to progress this country in the direction of equality. Please help us celebrate this 90th anniversary with a pledge to give your time, contribution and voice to this campaign that has been fighting and will continue to fight for more stepping stones to ultimately conquer all discrimination in our country.

Sign-up or contribute today and together, we can keep moving forward.

Best Wishes,

Leonard Boswell

[1] Des Moines Register, 3/19/09

[2] HF 2145, Mandatory HPV Vaccination Coverage, 3/31/2008

[3] HF 2539, Health Care Expansion Plan, 4/7/2008

[4] SF 2389, Iowa Jobs II Program and Budget Amendment, 3/29/2010

My hunch is the content beginning with “As the father of three daughters” will find its way into radio and television ads before too long. Motivating women voters will be crucial for Boswell and many other Iowa Democrats this fall.

Share any thoughts about the third district race in this thread.

UPDATE: Tyler Kingkade is also skeptical of this poll’s accuracy. I agree with him that this is a tossup race. But just as Republicans are too quick to declare victory over Boswell, Civic Skinny is too quick to declare Zaun “toast.”

SECOND UPDATE: Today’s press release from the Boswell campaign hits Zaun on education. Sounds like this will be the subject of a future ad. “NICHE” stands for Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, by the way:

Boswell Campaign Asks Where Does Brad Zaun Stand on Education

“My kids are educated and have always been educated in non-public schools because I am sick and tired of them being indoctrinated with all this garbage.”

– Brad Zaun, NICHE conference, 3/26/2010

“I can tell you if I’m elected to the United States Congress, and I mean this, I will be filing legislation to shut down the federal department of education. They do nothing for us.”

– Brad Zaun, Pella Pizza Ranch Meet and Greet, 5/25/2010

Des Moines – As Iowa schools are welcoming students back this week, the Boswell for Congress campaign is asking why no one has taken a hard look at Brad Zaun’s record on education and his promise to shut down the federal Department of Education if elected to Congress.

Boswell for Congress Campaign Manager Grant Woodard released the following statement on Zaun’s record on education.

“Brad Zaun has done everything in his power to defund Iowa’s public school system at the expense of our state’s children. His preference for private schooling goes beyond favoritism to the point where his positions are a detriment to public school children and their families. Zaun has voted against improving the education of Iowa’s youth from the preschool to college. Zaun voted against a voluntary statewide preschool program[1]. Zaun has voted down education funding for Iowa’s elementary, secondary, higher education school system the last four years in the Iowa Senate.[2] Zaun supports disbanding the Department of Education and its federal student loan programs that put Iowa kids through college.[3] Getting rid of the Department of Education would take away student loans from tens of thousands of the state’s college students. With this kind of a record and attitude, Iowa’s families cannot depend on Brad Zaun to stand up for them in ensuring their children have access to a high-quality education.”

During the 111th Congress, Congressman Leonard Boswell has more than doubled the maximum Pell Grant award for Iowa students attending college, and has made the largest investment in federal student aid since the first GI bill was passed. He has continued to support early childhood education programs like Early Head Start and child care services provided through Community Block Development Grants. Boswell has advocated for smaller class sizes in our public schools and voted to save education jobs threatened due to state budget shortfalls.


[1] HF 877, 4/18/2007

[2] SF 588, 4/27/07; HF 26791, 4/24/08; SF 470, 4/21/09;

[3] Brad Zaun, NICHE conference, 3/26/2010

  • Public Policy

    I was polled by Public Policy Group (I think) the other day and they asked about the Governor’s Race and Grassley/Conlin.  They whether the top issue facing Iowa was jobs/economy, “protecting traditional marriage” or illegal immigration.  I’m twenty three so I at least know that they are polling people in my age group.

     I suspect that a lot of these current polls that we see around the country aren’t polling young person, but I suspect my generation won’t go out and vote given that Obama hasn’t moved heaven and Earth yet.  

    • I imagine

      it’s getting harder to poll young people because so many people use only cell phones and/or don’t pick up the phone for a pollster.

      No one expects a big youth turnout, but it’s pretty ridiculous to claim only 6 percent of the 2010 electorate will be between 18 and 34.

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